Science is all about replication of results, right?

Remember that paper published a while ago claiming evidence of precognition? I didn’t say anything about it, because I didn’t have anything much to say. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, Bayesian priors, and all that. You’ve heard it all before.

Here’s the thing. The right thing to do in this situation, as everyone knows, is for other scientists to try to replicate the result. Well, some did just that, tried to replicate the result, and couldn’t. It’s nice to see the system working, isn’t it? Well, it would be nice, except that the journal that published the original paper rejected their article, because they don’t publish replications of previous work. Ben Goldacre’s got the goods.

This is a structural problem with the way science is funded, disseminated, and rewarded. Even though everyone agrees that replication is essential in situations like these, it’s practically impossible to get a grant to merely replicate previous work, or to publish the results once you’ve done it. I don’t know what to do about that.

By the way, I’ve said this before, but let me say it again. In case you don’t know about Ben Goldacre, the great Guardian science writer and blogger, you should. He’s a national treasure. (Not my nation, unfortunately, but a national treasure nonetheless.)

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

11 thoughts on “Science is all about replication of results, right?”

  1. “Remember that paper published a while ago claiming evidence of precognition? “

    No, but I have a hunch about one which hasn’t even been written yet. 🙂

  2. Sorry, but when is the paper published? I think I’ve missed it ,was too busy doing other things. Okay, I will have a look of the Science Guardian’s blog , still got no idea who is he

  3. Great blogging. Thank you for illuminating one of the problems with scientific research. I would be interested to know if/when someone can replicate the results of the paper on precognition.

  4. “Well, some did just that, tried to replicate the result, and couldn't.”

    Been a while since my last science class but wouldn’t it get rejeceted because proving a Negative result is not a “scientific” result?

  5. Different people say different things about what “counts” as a scientific result, but by any reasonable definition, this negative result is at least as scientific as the earlier positive one.

    Anyone whose definition of “science” says otherwise is using a definition that bears no relation to science as it’s actually practiced.

  6. The structural problem is that money seems to be available for studies that have very little impact on our lives, while critical studies are left unfunded.

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